New foods should be sampled in small quantities

It seems like every day I get asked about eating wild foods. People inquire about their safety. Some folks shake their heads that anyone would collect weeds in the first place

First of all, despite what some may think I follow a few basic rules when it comes to eating any foods new to my palate. The first one is to know where the item came from. I’d never eat from an area I might think was riddled with pathogens or pesticides.

The second and extremely important rule is to eat only small quantities of any new food. It doesn’t matter if the cuisine was wild or just something you’ve never eaten before. For example, parsnips are a rare crop in this region but popular in other areas. If you’ve never consumed them before, and they are delicious, eat only a few the first time. Try a few more on subsequent occasions. That’s good common sense.

I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I can comfortably say people shouldn’t avoid trying new foods. I’m not advocating sampling all the weeds in your lawn. Also, some folks aren’t comfortable with anything that wasn’t specifically grown as a crop and that’s fine. I’m simply suggesting it can be fun to try new things.

People with multiple food allergies are often afraid to try new things. I can certainly understand that. People with sensitivity to mold might wish to avoid mushrooms. Checking with doctors, herbalists or nutritionists could be helpful for determining related foods that might pose a problem.

Another common question I’m often asked is whether it’s possible to outgrow childhood food allergies. It is but not uniformly. Some, such as seafood allergies show a very low percentage of success, so I strongly suggest discussing this matter with your medical professional. Tree nuts and peanuts show a slightly greater possibility of success, but I suggest not experimenting with them either.

Egg allergies are often outgrown. This is important since eggs are a hidden component in many foods. This constant low inoculation rate might be a reason why. Some studies show success rate of outgrowing symptoms can be over 50% by adulthood. That’s promising.

The real sticking point deals with symptom severity. Much of the success in overcoming a food allergy or intolerance deals with the severity of the problem. Individuals who are strongly allergic or intolerant should never experiment without medical supervision. Chances for success aren’t good.

I’ve thrown around the terms allergy and intolerance. To many sufferers, the final result is the same. Chemically, there is a difference. An allergy is caused by a protein which triggers an immune system reaction that can affect numerous organs. Sometimes an allergic reaction can be life-threatening.

In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems. If you have food intolerance, you can often eat small amounts of the problematic item without consequences. You’re a better judge of your digestive system than I am. Just remember, if you’re trying anything new follow the basic safety rules whether the food is wild or cultivated.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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